Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What's in your bag, Doc?

My latest WIP has a woman doctor and while researching to not only find out about women doctor's in the late 1800's I've had to discover a little about medicine at that time.

One good source has been the book "Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman's Work" by Mari Grana. This is a story of the author's grandmother who became a doctor in 1890 and first worked in the Montana mining country. The book describes some of the doctoring practices. The one that caught my attention and I had to look it up was the use of "adhesive bandages" for broken bones. That seemed too modern. Come to find out they were using "adhesive" bandages made of cotton bandages with plaster of Paris rubbed into the weave in 1851. A Dutch doctor first started using that method even though they had been pouring the liquid plaster into wooden boxes built around the legs for a while.

I couldn't find a photo to copy so go here and see a pretty good photo of a bag and some contents.

In some instances the doctor would have two bags. One for regular medical care and one filled with the necessary equipment for birthing. Here is just a brief list of contents that could be in a doctor's bag in the late 1800's.

Obstetrical tools (some of these were pretty horrendous looking)
Tongue depressor
Ear spoon
Catgut sutures
Glass syringe
Antiseptic soap
Peroxide of hydrogen
Drainage tubes
Percussion hammer
Adhesive bandage
Clean rolls of bandage

And the list could go on. The physicians of the 1800's and early 1900's had to carry practically their whole practice with them in order to be ready for whatever they found at the end of their sometimes long ride or late night summons.


Tanya Hanson said...

Paty, what a great post. I have a "horse doctor" in a wip so wonder how much of their equipment was similar.

I have seen 19th century medical and dental equipment (and also the pharmaceuticals some very wacky) up close at the Shelburn Museum in Vermont, and yes, some of it is horrendous-looking.

Having just had foot surgery, I sure am glad I live now LOL.

Thanks for this!

Paty Jager said...

Thanks for stopping by Tanya!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

This is great info. My hero in my second story is a doctor and seeing what he could have had in 1850-51 could probably squeek by with what is in your photo. The plaster of paris as well. Thanks!

CJ Parker said...

Great post. I've got an old medical book (published in 1879). Belive me, we've come a long way since then. But it was interesting to read.

Susan Macatee said...

Great post, Paty! During my research for Erin's Rebel, the hero, a Confederate officer, broke his leg when a trench collapsed at Petersburg. Although I found that plaster of paris was used that early, my critique partners thought it wouldn't be readily avaiable during war time, so I decided not to use it in the story, settling for splints instead. Sometimes you have to go with what a reader perceives was available in a time period to avoid confusion.

Paty Jager said...

Paisley, Glad my info is of help.

CJ, It is interesting. I also read that in the early 1800's doctors bled woman during childbirth to make them pass out so they didn't have to listen tot them scream. No wonder so many women and babies died in childbirth!

Susan, It's true, you have to go with what works for the story. In my case the story is late enough and in a large city so it makes sense. Thanks for stopping by.

Linda LaRoque said...

Great post, Paty. Man, I'd hate to have been seriously ill back in that time.

My husband's great something or other was a traveling dr. back during the Cynthia Ann Parker time period in Texas. Someone in the family has his old medical bag. I wish I knew who.